It was seen as a chance for former Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight titleholder Holly Holm to rebound after being choked unconscious by Miesha Tate. Instead, it turned into a coming-out party for Valentina Shevchenko.
“The Bullet” withstood a first-round knockdown to capture a unanimous decision over Holm in the UFC on Fox 20 main event on Saturday at the United Center in Chicago. Shevchenko was awarded four of the five rounds on all three scorecards, drawing 49-46 marks from the cageside judges. The toast of the mixed martial arts world following her head kick knockout of Ronda Rousey in November, Holm has suffered back-to-back defeats since the historic upset.
Shevchenko followed her game plan with near-flawless precision. The Kyrgyzstani muay Thai practitioner countered beautifully throughout the five-round battle, tagging Holm with sneaky right hooks and penetrating jabs while also investing in inside leg kicks. According to FightMetric figures, Shevchenko out-landed “The Preacher’s Daughter” in the total strike (119-73) and significant strike (87-54) categories despite throwing fewer of them.
In wake of UFC on Fox 20 “Holm vs. Shevchenko,” here are five matches that ought to be considered:
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Valentina Shevchenko vs. Julianna Pena: Shevchenko has won six of her last seven fights, a close-but-clear decision loss to current champion Amanda Nunes the only misstep. The 28-year-old climbed into title contention with her victory over Holm, showcasing her considerable skills to a much wider audience. Shevchenko has drawn some criticism for slow starts and may be better suited to five-round fights. Time figures to tell on that front, given her latest performance and the topsy-turvy nature of the division in which she competes. Pena, who won Season 18 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” has yet to lose inside the Octagon. She last appeared at UFC 200 on July 9, when she took a unanimous verdict from Cat Zingano.
Edson Barboza vs. Will Brooks: Few weapons in MMA have the destructive power of a Barboza leg kick. The former Ring of Combat champion chewed up Gilbert Melendez’s lead leg in their co-headliner, as he picked up a unanimous decision and continued to cement his place as one of the sport’s elite lightweights. Barboza, 30, has gone 8-3 since his upset loss to Jamie Varner in 2012, bowing only to Tony Ferguson, Michael Johnson and Donald Cerrone. Brooks made his organizational debut at “The Ultimate Fighter 23” Finale on July 8, earning a unanimous verdict over Ross Pearson. The onetime Bellator MMA champion has rattled off nine consecutive victories.
Francis Ngannou vs. Anthony Hamilton-Damian Grabowski winner: Ngannou has begun to gain a foothold in what has become arguably the UFC’s weakest division. The 29-year-old posted his seventh straight win at the expense of Bojan Mihajlovic, as he blew away the Serbian newcomer with crushing ground-and-pound in a little less than two minutes. An intriguing talent at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, the Cameroon-born Frenchman has bested Mihajlovic, Curtis Blaydes and Luis Henrique Barbosa de Oliveira in his three UFC appearances. Hamilton and Grabowski will lock horns at UFC 201 on July 30 in Atlanta.
Felice Herrig vs. Cortney Casey: Returning to the cage for the first time in 15 months, Herrig showed no signs of rust and made up for lost time. The longtime Jeff Curran protégé and graduate of “The Ultimate Fighter 20” submitted Kailin Curran with a first-round rear-naked choke in their women’s strawweight showcase. Herrig, who has never been finished in her 17-fight career, had not fought since dropping a decision to Paige VanZant at UFC on Fox 15 in April 2015. Casey last competed at UFC Fight Night “McDonald vs. Lineker” on July 13, when she dispatched Cristina Stanciu with elbows 2:36 into the first round at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Holly Holm vs. Cat Zingano: Holm has to wonder where her path leads from here. The Jackson-Wink MMA mainstay started her mixed martial arts career 10-0, the run punctuated by her unforgettable stoppage against Rousey in Australia. However, she has since suffered consecutive losses to Tate and Shevchenko, leaving her with no clear direction in the division she once ruled. Holm, who turns 35 in October, also has more than 50 fights worth of mileage on her odometer between boxing, kickboxing and MMA. The 34-year-old Zingano finds herself in a similar position following her decision defeat to the aforementioned Pena at UFC 200.